Music News

For St. Paddy's Day drinkers, here are superior alternatives to those tired Irish folk songs

In the opening to his 875-page treatise on Irish nationalism, The Green Flag, Robert Kee attempts to decode the DNA of that island's people, sketching an ancestral tree that includes everyone from the Firbolg and the Normans to the Gaels and Protestant plantation owners. His conclusion that the Irish are an amalgam of countless assimilated peoples casts doubt on the perpetuation of any sort of singular Irish attributes.

For the Irish diaspora here in America, that's not the case — particularly on St. Patrick's Day. Visit your local pubs on March 17, and unique characteristics are clearly discernible, with the Plastic Paddys displaying a predilection for kitsch (green cocked hats and food coloring in the brew), getting beery and bleary, and clapping along to sanitized folk songs.

We're here to correct that final transgression. "Wild Rover," "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling," "The Unicorn Song," "Whiskey in the Jar" — get, go! Here are superior alternatives. Shout out their titles and beseech them to be played.

"Follow Me Up to Carlow": Sodden St. Patrick's Day crowds demand blood (typically the English variety) and this ditty delivers. Commemorating the Irish victory at the Battle of Glenmalure, "Follow Me Up to Carlow" is unusually gory in content, with lines such as, "From Tassagart to Clonmore/There flows a steam of Saxon gore," and "Now for Black FitzWilliam's head/We'll send it over dripping red/To Queen Liza and her ladies." If the Pub Musician Feigns Ignorance, demand "A Row in the Town."

"Highland Paddy": Dedicated to the Irishmen living in Scotland who returned home for the 1798 Rebellion. The lyric "Gather round/Me men of Ireland" will bring a frisson of nationalistic pride to folks. When finished, brace yourself for the sound of clinkling glasses and a bevy of slainte toasts. ITPMFI: "Tri-Coloured Ribbon."

"Galway Bay" (the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem's version): With trademark Irish wit, the legendary folk act illuminated a song with all the personality of overcooked cabbage. If only someone would do the same with "Danny Boy." ITPMFI: the even saucier "Monto."

"Isn't It Grand, Boys": "Look at the coffin/With golden handles/Isn't it grand, boys/To be bloody well dead?" Brilliant, no? ITPMFI: the foot-stomping "The Old Maid in the Garet."

"The Boston Burglar": The bibulous have been lapping up the black stuff all night — time to get them crying and keening with "The Boston Burglar," a prison lament of heartbreaking consequence. ITPMFI: "Grace."

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Ryan Foley